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It's Not What You Know

It used to be said that the best way to progress up the judging ladder was to make sure you had friends in the right places, that elevation to the higher ranks of judging depended on, not what you knew but who you knew.

A few years ago the Kennel Club announced the formation of the Judges' Working Party (JWP). Part of JWPs remit was to devise a set of guidelines and rules which would ensure that only the most knowledgeable would progress up the judging ladder. So in addition to travelling up and down the country to clock up the required classes, every person applying for acceptance to a breed list would be required to travel the country to attend specific breed seminars and KC seminars on conformation, and also to pass the KC exam on judging procedures before being accepted on a list. In other words, in the brave new world envisaged by the JWP, one would earn a place or progression on a judges list by stint of good experience and expansion of ones knowledge of the breed, not by who you knew.

In this way the JWP indicated the standard of judging could be improved and that exhibitors could have faith in a system that would eventually ensure the promotion of good, knowledgeable judges not just friends of friends.

Fatal Flaw
All in all a very laudable idea but, sorry, like the child who told the emperor that he wasn't wearing any clothes, I would have to say that there is a fatal flaw in the rosy scenario described above. The KC has always left the final decision on who is actually placed on a judges list to each breed club and under the new guidelines continues to do so. In theory, there is no problem with that as, one would expect the breed clubs to have the main say in who progressed, and at what speed, as a judge in that breed. But this decision-making is only acceptable if the members of judges sub- committees are transparently impartial in selecting those candidates to be included on their judging lists.

Unfortunately, it would appear that in some clubs, other factors rather than for the good of the breed come into play when the judges list is being drawn up. Some aspirant judges are finding it very hard to understand why, given they fulfil all the set criteria for the chosen list, they have been turned down by certain clubs. What they often find even harder to understand is the committees refusal to give them a reason for their rejection and that there is no right of appeal as the KC currently sanctions the committees prerogative not to give a reason in writing.

While recognising the right of a club to have control over its own judges lists , surely, in the interest of natural justice, it is not too much to ask that the KC insists that, when requested, a written, valid reason must be given for non-inclusion on a list when the non-successful applicant fulfils all the required criteria for that particular list. If the reason for someones non-inclusion is justifiable, for example, the person smoked a cigarette or conversed with spectators whilst going over the dogs during their last judging appointment, then the committee should have no problem with putting that reason down on paper. I would argue that if a judges sub-committee cannot give a reason in writing , then one must suspect that there is no valid reason. I am sure there are lots of readers who know exactly what I am taking about; you know that your non-inclusion is simply down to club politics and yet there is nothing you can do about it as the breed judges committee members do not have to justify their decision and can hide behind the quote, the KC say we don't have to give a reason.

By the way, I have designed a simple questionnaire which could be sent to breed clubs when they turn down your application. All the chairman of the club has to do (for I know they are busy people) is to tick a box beside one of the following statements which explains why your application was unacceptable. For example, you bought dog from wrong person, you have won too much with your dogs, you put up the wrong dog the last time you judged, someone on the committee doesn't like you or some friend of a member of the committee doesn't like you.

Seriously though, can I repeat what I said above, most of the changes initiated by the JWP to improve the overall standard of judging will have been in vain. Why? Because the power in most breeds now lies in the hands of a select few, those who are on the breed judges committees. They are the real gate-keepers on the judges ladder. They are the people who decide who moves on to a B list or who is approved to award CCs; if they don't like a person for whatever reason, then they can ensure that persons name does not appear on a list. And, as the KC places more and more emphasis on show committees selecting their judges off breed lists, if your name does not appear on a list these days (especially where there is only one breed club) you might as well give up trying to progress as a judge in that breed now as there will be no judging invitations forthcoming.

No Option
As an aside, can I just say that it is a sad reflection on the current state of things in the canine show world, that after reading the first draft of this article, a friend saw fit to question my wisdom in publishing it as, he said, those who are seen to rock the boat or criticise their masters often find themselves by-passed for judging appointments etc. Too late was my cry I already know my out-spoken opinions on the effect of the JWP on Northern Ireland exhibitors has caused my removal from one breed list. But as I was brought up to stand up for my principals, to speak up against unjust rules and regulations then that I feel I have no option but to write this article. Perhaps others who have been rejected by a breed club for no apparent reason will be inspired to take pen to paper and write to the canine papers and to the Kennel Club. As a member of the so-called grass-roots make sure that when you meet a member of the KC or JWP at a show, that they hear your opinion. Don't just sit there and let others fight your battles for you; stand up and be counted.

And finally, here's a little bit of tongue-in the-cheek advice for the reader who wishes to get on in the judging game. When next at a dog show, for example Crufts next week, don't waste your time watching the judging and trying to increase your knowledge of the breed, get up and socialise in a sycophantic manner with the members of the breed clubs judges sub-committee. For take note, your progress as a judge in a lot of breeds at the moment will depend on not what you know but who you know. Now why does that give me a feeling of deju vu !!

Dogs - This article has been reproduced courtesy of Marleen Collins

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